December 17, 2015 / 9:13 PM / 2 years ago

Imprimis, a Turing rival, aims to undercut drug price hikes

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Imprimis Pharmaceuticals Inc (IMMY.O), the compounding pharmacy that makes a $1 copycat of Turing Pharmaceuticals' high priced Daraprim treatment, sees an opportunity to build a market in countering massive drug price hikes.

Imprimis Chief Executive Mark Baum said the company is holding talks with several pharmacy benefits managers about supplying alternatives to extremely pricey generic drugs.

"What we are doing could deal a significant blow by facilitating competition," Baum said in a phone interview.

Turing has become a lightning rod of public criticism for raising the price of Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750 per pill as soon as it acquired the drug earlier this year. The move drew the ire of patient advocates, U.S. presidential candidates and is being investigated by Congressional committees and U.S. prosecutors.

On Thursday, Turing Chief Executive Martin Shkreli was arrested on allegations of running a Ponzi-like scheme at his former hedge fund and at another drug company that he previously headed. The charges against him do not involve drug pricing.

But they drew new scrutiny of Shkreli, who has been unapologetic about the price increases on Daraprim, an anti-infective drug used to treat toxoplasmosis, often by patients with AIDs.

Earlier this month, Express Scripts Holding Co (ESRX.O) chose to reimburse Imprimis's version of Daraprim. Express Scripts added Imprimis to its network of pharmacies and created an education programme with doctors to increase access to Imprimis' $1-per-pill competitor.

U.S. drug prices rose about 13 percent last year overall, boosted in part by eye-popping increases on some older generic drugs, like the 60-year old Daraprim.

Before creating Turing, Shkreli was CEO at Retrophin Inc (RTRX.O), where he sharply raised the price of a drug, Thiola, used to prevent cystine kidney stone formation. Baum said Imprimis was looking at whether or not it might make a cheaper version of a Retrophin drug.

Retrophin ousted Shkreli in late 2014 and sued him in August for $65 million, claiming he used his control over the company to enrich himself and pay off investors in his hedge fund.

FDA regulations forbid compounding pharmacies from making exact substitutes for existing generic treatments. Imprimis combines pyrimethamine, the chemical name for the active ingredient in Daraprim, with a form of folic acid called leucovorin.

Patient advocate groups, including the HIV Medicine Association and the Infectious Disease Society of America, said they applauded Express Scripts and Imprimis for addressing the "prohibitive cost" of Daraprim.

"We are not recommending any particular medication or pharmacy," the groups said in a statement on Thursday. "However, given the serious challenges that our members have faced accessing pyrimethamine for their patients, it is important for them to be aware of treatment alternatives."

The statement provided information on ordering the Imprimis treatment.

Reporting by Caroline Humer, additional reporting by Deena Beasley in Los Angeles; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Bernard Orr

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